July 8, 2008

Portfolio Center from a Student's Perspective: Guest Post by Andrea Foster

One fine spring day, I found myself in downtown Atlanta examining the walls in a dimly lit underpass. I came armed with several cans of spray paint, camera, tripod and a mission. Fortunately, I was never stopped and asked to explain my mission. For most students, defacing public property for a poster about a personal philosophy on God was not a typical solution for a project. However, this was not a typical assignment at a typical school, and typical solutions are not the way Portfolio Center student think.

I didn’t always think this way, and it took a while to get there. My steps toward the dimly lit underpass can be traced back to the previous decade, when I first entered college. At the time, I was not sure what I would do after graduation and not very concerned either. I focused on my passions and left with a degree in Fine Art. After graduation I went on to find unfulfilling work in both small and large corporations where I had little opportunity for creativity. It became apparent that a lifetime of such work would turn my brain to bland mashed potatoes. I had to make a change.

The idea to return to school was an enormous decision. I now had a spouse, fulltime job, and a mortgage. My actions would affect more than just myself. This time around, my education had to be the bridge to a satisfying career. I researched endlessly, read student blogs, and contacted alumni of many different schools. After two years of serious consideration, I finally made my jump. On January 2nd, 2007, I found myself nervously chatting with 14 fresh faces at Portfolio Center’s new student orientation. Five days later, I pulled an all-nighter, and the following year and a half has gone by in a whirlwind.

Despite the typical stories of cut paper posters and “sleep when you die” mantra, I’ve found that every student has their own unique experience. Likewise, I quickly learned that the diverse experiences are as diverse as the students who come to Portfolio Center. Whereas art students typically have a preconceived stereotype of some form, I found my new classmates to be unexpected and intriguing. Beekeepers and architects sat side by side. Degrees meant little; the desire to work hard and think critically became the new requirement.

While Portfolio Center has been dubbed a factory because of its ability to produce great designers, it is far from an assembly line for creative minds. Instead, the school reaches inside and pulls out the details and experiences that make each person an individual, and shows students how to apply these unique characteristics to their work. In two years, one is shaken, stirred, cracked open and turned inside out. The original ingredients remain but result in a new concoction that is now ready to conquer the creative world.

During one of my early quarters at Portfolio Center, I was in a class called “Storytelling and Metaphor.” This class instilled one of the core values of the school: let your work tell a story. After several writing assignments (yes, even design students have to write), I took elements of personal stories and translated them into a visual image. I feel this little drawing was a turning point. In one simple illustration, I learned to tell the story of myself in the world and my experience at Portfolio Center.

Some say the snail is the strongest creature in the world, as it carries its home with it everywhere. I too have had to find tremendous strength to reach my seventh quarter. Exhaustion and stress have been overwhelming, but I keep lurching forward. Curiosity about people and places brings me out, but I still have my shell to retreat into when needed. Maybe by the end of my Portfolio Center life I will be completely out of my shell, but I don’t intend to change that much. Instead, I hope to grow more confident about the concoction I have become and what I am capable of accomplishing.

I am anxious to see where this experience will take me, as the past year and a half has often differed from the student blogs and alumni stories I read before attending Portfolio Center. Sometimes fear and doubt about the future cloud my perspective, but I remind myself of all the knowledge, sincerity, and passion that I have absorbed from instructors and peers. The life-long lessons of thought, heart, and fearless energy will undoubtedly guide me as I take the next step and enter the creative work force.